Domestic violence is an issue that plagues couples all over the world. In Australia, domestic violence rates for those that fall under the LGBT+ banner quite often mirror those of straight couples, however LGBT+ victims tend to have trouble finding help due to a lack of support services available to them.
Domestic violence in general is a non-discriminatory phenomenon, which affects people from all walks of life and all racial/ethnic groups. LGBT couples are not excluded from domestic violence. Domestic violence in all intimate relationships essentially involves two factors: power and control, irrespective of the label used to describe the relationship. Domestic violence, whether heterosexual or homosexual in nature is nothing less than the systematic exercise of illegitimate power and coercive control by one partner over another
In the United States, a study conducted in 2010 by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention revealed several harrowing statistics for LGBT couples. The report revealed 46% of lesbian women had been with a violent partner, as opposed to 43% of straight women.
For bisexual women the number was nearly double that with a shocking 75% reporting cases of domestic violence in their lifetime. For males, the numbers were 40% for gay men, 21% for straight men and 47% for bisexual men.
In a US survey conducted amongst 6,456 transgendered people, 10% of respondents reported being sexually assaulted because of their gender identity. Being sexually assaulted was associated with a range of negative outcomes for these individuals in comparison to the broader survey sample, including: higher rates of HIV, higher rates of drug, alcohol and cigarette use, and higher rates of attempted suicide.
In addition to the effects created by homophobia and discrimination, lesbians and gay men can sometimes be isolated from their family. These can contribute to the isolation of abused gay and lesbian people by masking the realities of domestic violence in same-sex relationships and placing the safety of the abused person at continued risk.
In Australia, the lack of legal recognition when it comes to same-sex relationships contributes heavily to the lack of recognition for the occurrence of domestic violence between same sex partners. In addition, the shortage of resources available to victims of domestic violence doesn’t do a lot to help LGBT members affected by the same issues, focusing heavily on heterosexual couples.
A 2011 study conducted in the United States revealed one out of four, to every one out of three same-sex couples had experienced domestic violence at one point or another. In comparison, the study also revealed one in every four heterosexual women experienced domestic violence in their lifetime. In heterosexual relationships, intimate violence is relegated to rigid gender roles because men who beat their partners often “engage in a coherent and disciplined rage to defend what they consider to be their rights,” which the men construe to be absolute authority over “their” women.
In March earlier this year, Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria called for better-targeted training for LGBT support services in regards to family violence. The organisation submitted a review to the Royal Commission Into Family Violence pointing out how multiple LGBT victims of domestic abuse often suffer in isolation and don’t particularly feel comfortable utilising heterosexual domestic abuse services, since they feel the services don’t translate well.
Dr Philomena Horsley, author of Gay and Lesbian Victoria’s submission said “Generally services are indicating they haven’t thought about [the community] much or aren’t confident.”
Dr. Horsley also mentioned a common threat amongst LGBT vicitms is the threat of “outing” in regards to the victim’s sexuality, and occasionally HIV or AIDS is used as a similar threat. While HIV/AIDS does not directly cause domestic violence, it can be a factor in abuse; for example the inability to resist unsafe sex in the context of sexual assault, and the threat of revealing a person’s HIV status.
Nicolas Parkhill, chief executive of ACON (an AIDS and LGBT organisation based in New South Wales) states domestic violence in the LGBT community is severely under-reported in comparison to straight couples.
“It could be under-reported because people don’t feel comfortable, and that’s to do with stigma and discrimination. Confidentiality and isolation are also issues and that would really play out for gay and lesbian people in regional areas” he said.
The types of abuse in same sex marriages often share similarities with cross-gender relationships, with the exception of two unique features. The threat of “outing” or exposing their partner’s sexual orientation to work colleagues, family and friends is often used.
In addition, extreme isolation caused by being “in the closet”, the lack of civil rights protection and a lack of access to the legal system often works against LGBT victims seeking justice.
While governments have taken steps in the past few years to better protect the civil liberties of LGBT victims, most victims still find it hard to receive similar compensation to that of heterosexual couples.
Richard Carroll, Associate Professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine claims “Domestic violence is exacerbated because same-sex couples are dealing with the additional stress of being a sexual minority. This leads to reluctance to address domestic violence issues.”
“ In addition, evidence suggests that the minority stress model may explain these high prevalence rates.”
Melody Kelly, a representative for Griffith University’s Queer Society stated her thoughts on the differences between same-sex violence and mixed-gender violence. “With straight couples, there’s an usually an entrenched motive for domestic violence, as well as multiple organisations set up to deal with the issue. With LGBT couples, the causes for domestic violence are often usually more complex in nature.” “People tend to not utilise the counselling services aimed at straight couples due to the methods not having a whole lot of relevance to LGBT couples”.
Overseas, the treatment of same-sex domestic violence is roughly equal to Australia’s. In the United States, The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers an answer for abusers, stating “[they] justify the abuse with the notion that a partner is not “really” lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (i.e. the victim may once have had/may still have relationships, or express a gender identity, inconsistent with the abuser’s definitions of these terms).” stating this can be used both as a tool in verbal and emotional abuse as well as to further the isolation of a victim from the mainstream community.
An important factor to remember is the difference between physical, sexual and psychological forms of abuse.
Reports indicate that same-gender victims tend to defend themselves far more than cross-gender female victims.
Within the context of gay male domestic violence, Island & Letellier define gay male domestic violence as any unwanted physical force, psychological abuse, material or property damage inflicted by one man onto another.
The complexities involved in same-gender relational violence tends to require law enforcement and lawyers to obtain special training before getting involved with the issue. While governments are doing their best to try and accommodate for LGBT members in need of domestic abuse treatment, the system still has a long way to go before significant change is seen.
If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1800 787 3224.
In an emergency, please call 000.